Facebook moves to lift 13 year-old age barrier

Facebook is understood to be working towards opening up the social network to under 13 year olds, having filed a patent which has recently become public.

Currently the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prevents Facebook and other websites from signing members any younger than 13 years. The law specifies that sites which cater to children aged below 12 years must obtain “verifiable parental consent” for underage users.

Although this has not deterred underage users from joining Facebook, a fact highlighted by various research reports.

However, Facebook’s patent, which was originally filed in November 2012 but has only just become public, details a method in which children under the age of 13 years can join the social network if supervised by their parents.

The patent states that the social network would use the information on the parent’s account to confirm the relationship with the child, and that they parent would be able to access the child’s account and privacy settings.

Facebook's user figures have plateaued over the last few years, and this move could potentially see widen its audience.

The abstract from the patent stated: "When a user has an age less than a threshold age (a child user) attempts to access an online service or perform actions using the online service, the online service obtains parental authorization from an additional user having a parental relationship to the user.

"The child user may identify the user having the parental relationship and the online service verifies the validity of the identified user's account, the age of the identified user, and/or a connection between the identified user and the child user having a parental relationship type.

"The online service may make these verifications based in part social and transactional information associated with the identified user's account. Upon successful verification, the online service allows the identified user to authorize account creation for the child user, and/or manage the account and actions of the child user.

A Facebook spokeswoman said: “Child safety advocates, policymakers and companies have discussed how best to help parents keep their kids safe online. Like any responsible company, we looked at ways to tackle this issue, but a patent application based on two-year-old research is not a predictor of future work in this area.”

To view the full patent click here.

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